Thursday, April 26, 2012
We Interupt this Singularity...
The best science fiction is cautionary. It's about projecting what is happening in the present, exaggerating it, blowing it out of proportion so it can be better understood. In theory, at least.
Science and science fiction seem to blur in the Transhumanism movement (H+), an apocalyptic (in the classical sense) religion that promises a rapidly onrushing future where man and machine will merge. Ray Kurzweil's Singularity-- another technological eschaton in which machines which reach their apotheosis and become just like us-- is deeply embedded into the H+ movement.
I wrote to a Transhumanist blogger in hopes of getting an interview and he refused, claiming that The Secret Sun was "too fringe" for him. Because Transhumanism is so mainstream. Right.
What he really meant is that he didn't want to risk a seat on the Kurzweil gravy train by being associated with anyone outside the faith who isn't part of the officially sanctioned media. A lot of scientists think Kurzweil and his Singularity are a joke- as do Jaron Lanier and William Gibson-- a brilliant but demented flake so terrified of death that he's built a movement to try to stave it off but powerful enough to bring a lot of people along for his ride to the "Nerd Rapture," as Gibson puts it.
Science and technology have had a remarkable run, but many people think we're nearing the era of diminishing returns. And their pimps and pushers never seem to acknowledge their enormous dark sides. Certainly a lot of people in North America and Europe and Japan are justified in recognizing the stark diminishment of their livelihoods thanks to Internet-enabled outsourcing. Technology has given a whole kitbag of tools to Wall St. and the national security state to rip us all off and hem us in as well.
And as someone who has worked with computers since the 80s I can safely say that the changes in the way I've worked with them have been largely cosmetic- I'm essentially doing the same things I was doing back with them in the Reagan Era. Just faster, fancier, and prettier.
But the bloom is off the bush-- I used to think computers and Internet would lead to a Golden Age, now I know better. To be honest I'm nostalgic as hell for the old days. Those old 2400 bps days were like heroin injected into my cerebral cortex and I'm not even remotely exaggerating.
Of course I love technology and like all chronic pain sufferers every day of my life is an all day science project. I'm no Luddite-- quite the contrary, I still cling to those old cyberpunk dreams. It's just that I'm a Jungian about science and technology, where the Transhumanists and their fellow travelers are hopeless Prosperity Gospel suckers who can't bring themselves to acknowledge the huge Shadow side of science and technology because that would mean acknowledging the black, oily, indelible stain in their own hearts.
Transhumanism is nothing even remotely new- remember The Six Million Dollar Man? And then of course there's the Borg. Which raises the questions; how far will we go with this stuff? How much of our souls will we surrender to Silicon Valley? How much time and money will we waste on some rich fool's pipe dream?
Gibson was probably thinking of Kurzweil when he wrote the X-Files episode 'Kill Switch', but not the creator of the Skynet-like AI, rather the mad genius who uploaded his consciousness to join it offscreen. But how will Kurzweil upload his consciousness to the Net when we still haven't a clue what the hell consciousness is or how it works?
Will he ever accept that we may never know in this incarnation? That maybe we're not allowed to know?
And of course one thing you never hear about in Kurzweil's fever dreams is a catastrophic virus. Or glitches, meltdowns, sunspots knocking the entire grid out, electromagnetic pulses, and whatever disaster is lurking there on the Shadow side of his Brave New World. As we saw with the Wired wave of digital hype in the early 90s, with Dow 30,000 and endless peace and prosperity for all, nothing ever seems to work out the way the Silicon Valley salesmen promise.
People like myself, who cut our teeth on sci-fi and comic books since we taught ourselves to read, have seen it all. We've seen it all play out, know all the angles and the scenarios and the outcomes. Nothing surprises us except that everyone else always seems to be surprised when the worst-case scenario comes to pass.
For Mr. Kurzweil, I don't what to say. No one can deny his genius. But I've heard it said that genius is always next door to madness and that that level of achievement always comes at the expense of something vital in their lives. Maybe Transhumanism and the Singularity are all playing out in secret in some lab somewhere but I doubt it. Too many people who know better seem to only feel pity and embarassment when the topic is raised.
And so it is with the Materialist mindset- Kurzweil's desperation is only unusual is that he doesn't want to surrender to the inevitable. Most of his peers these days pride themselves on their stoicism and cynicism and atheism, blithely forgetting how the original Stoics and Cynics and Atheists didn't lead the way to a glorious future for their native Greece, they were the harbingers of demographic collapse, cultural decay and ultimate defeat at the hands of more vigorous, theistic enemies.
I guess we're all supposed to forget that part of the story. Not very bloody scientific, actually.
There are atheists like Sam Harris who don't go the full PZ Myers monty of moronic materialism and utter moral collapse. Harris is fascinated by entheogen research and meditation-- exploring the frontiers of the World Within. You don't have to sign onto a theistic cosmology to think there's more to this life than machines.
And of course you can also dive right into centuries of vision and inspiration from great mystics and seers as well. My personal recommendation.
In fact, I'll leave you with some inspiration from a modern mystic who faced the Big Sleep with considerably more courage and grace than Mr. Kurzweil and his ilk....
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